We live in an area in which Mormons aren’t necessarily the happiest people in town — which gives missionary work a twist we haven’t been trained for.
For the most part, in Montana, family and outdoor adventures trump the priorities of career, position and possessions. Many replace organized Sunday services with wholesome recreational activities because God’s creations beckon them to reverence. Here, families are planned carefully and the sacrifice of becoming a parent is taken seriously.
For example, many parents here celebrate the birthdays of their one or two children with gusto. Whole families are invited to offer rapt attention to every delightful game of musical chairs and candle wish. Then enter the Mormon moms. Sure, their children are clean and the gifts perfectly wrapped, but we swish away saying we’ll be back to the party in an hour after we run four other kids to activities/go visiting teaching/deliver a meal/finish canning peaches.
The response is usually, “Whatever, dude.” Not, “Why are you so happy?”
I grew up hearing lessons about how knowledge of the restored gospel gives you a light in your eyes that causes people to ask the fabled question, “Why are you so happy?” I wholeheartedly believe in the gift of that light, but these days, our conversations are much less typical.
The last time I gave away a Book of Mormon, it wasn’t because my friend asked about a plan of happiness. We simply drove past our church. I said, “That’s where I go on Sundays.” She said, “I’d like to come too.” And I said, “Well, you’re going to need this.”
Watching my husband baptize her and her daughter a few months later was one of my happiest days.
Recently, my husband and I discovered that three or four of our favorite families in the community all attend the same church. They are all hardworking, balanced, faithful, loving, generous and conservative in appearance; their children are extremely kind and polite, and they seem very, very happy.
My husband confessed to me that after a particularly inspiring conversation with one of these men (whom we’ve already secretly nicknamed "Bishop"), he couldn’t help thinking, “I’d like to find out more about what he believes.”
We belly laughed over the irony because we’re always hoping the tables will be turned in the other direction.
That same Sunday, I confessed my own twist. I had, unfortunately, been frenzied preparing to teach my Sunday School lesson, substitute as Primary song leader and serve a dinner for guests, as well as find shoes, fight teenagers, etc.
As I finally took a deep breath on our way to sacrament meeting, I drove past another “cool” church in town that many of the successful and influential in our community attend. Couples linked arm in arm were just leaving morning services, and while my brow was furrowed, they couldn’t have been happier.
So how do you initiate a missionary moment with those who already seem to be fulfilling much of their spiritual potential?
Do you say, “I know things are going really well for you, but how about taking a detour down the religious road less traveled where the journey is harder, more demanding and sometimes chaotic but the eternal reward is infinite?”
Or, “I know your home is a loving, peaceful refuge from the world, but you have got to see the temple.”
Or, “Stop planning those awesome family adventures on Sunday and come with us. All you’ll need is a starched white shirt and a lot of patience for our sometimes lackluster lay ministry.”
The truth is, even without the fullness of the gospel, many of these wonderful people are living Christlike lives. Given the opportunity and invitation, they may well make and keep all the covenants necessary for exaltation because they love the Savior. Sometimes, I even feel weaker in their presence since I need the guidelines of the gospel to keep me moving forward.
So the quandary continues.
For me, the happiness the gospel brings is not synonymous with ease and pleasure. However, some of my most peaceful, easy moments or feelings of deep joy have been felt under the roof of our chapel or in a holy temple.
While I have been guilty of equating progress with busyness, eternal progress really is boiled down to keeping simple covenants and commandments.
Ultimately, I do know this — the gospel as presented by Jesus Christ himself always required the believer to step out of his comfort zone. From the rich man or busy fisherman to the grieving mother or the woman living in sin — all needed to leave the life or attitude they had created to follow him.
And so, the invitation must be given to all — no matter how happy they already seem at the moment.